Don’t follow leaders; watch the parking meters

Some of us, in spite of the biblical aphorism, hide our lights under a bushel. For instance, you probably didn’t know that I am one of the leading authorities on parking meter art in the Greater Columbia area. I’ve just neglected to mention it. I’ve been a student of parking meter art ever since I saw “Cool Hand Luke” for the first time (which, as you’ll recall, was all about Lucas Jackson’s unresolved conflicts with parking meters). And then there’s parking meter music, from which I derive my headline above.

Mary Pat Baldauf found me out, however, and enlisted me to judge the amateur division in the “Change for Change” show at 701 Whaley that was put on earlier this week to benefit the City of Columbia Climate Action Protection Campaign.

The installations (“installations” is one of those words that we art critics use, only when we use it it doesn’t mean “military installation” or the act of the guys from Sears putting in your new washer and dryer) employed defunct meters obtained from the city to make statements of various sorts. Some of the statements were clearer than others. Some mumbled. Other made bad jokes. My job was to pick the best.

My assignment was to judge 17 entries on three criteria — creativity, construction and unique use of materials. Most of the works were highly vertical in orientation, except for the two that were turned into gigantic fishing lures.

There were several that I liked. Such as the initially understated one that seemed to be in the process of being overtaken by rust and organic matter, including vines. But then I realized the vines were supposed to be snakes, and liked it less. We post-modernist critics eschew Freudian allusion. I also liked the primitive, whimsical Hula Hope holder — basically, the meter and post were painted in a Merry Prankster psychedelic style, and two metal arms jutted out to the sides of the head, and one side had a Hula Hoop dangling from it. Utilitarianism appeals to me; this was an installation with a purpose, and its purpose was to hold Hula Hoops.

There were others I liked less, but I won’t go into all that here. I told Mary Pat about them later, with such extended commentary that she knew for sure, just listening to me, that she had chosen well in choosing me as a judge. I can be way judgmental when it comes to parking meter art.

Here’s the really good news out of all of this: The installation I judged far and away the best (I made like Herman Cain and gave it a 9-9-9 out of 10 on the three criteria) won the division. That was the one that had an automatic pistol suspended in the act of firing at a meter, and the meter exploding — large chunks and little metal bits suspended in space all around it, hanging from nearby wires. It was kinetic (or at least, appeared to be kinetic, which is even cooler). It told a story, one in which the implied protagonist’s motivation could be fully understood and identified with by any observer. It was a mix of ultra-realism — the point where the slug struck the meter was very convincing — and hyperbole (several .45-cal. shells were flying up above the pistol — far too many, grouped far too close together, for a mere semi-automatic).

Very impressive. And obviously, my fellow judges agreed.

I was also gratified to see that the best professional entry won that division. It was a towering, complex work, utilizing many meters, all painted in candy-coating enamel colors, that together depicted different kinds of insects buzzing about a flowering plant. Quite impressive.

Anyway, now that it’s over, I’ll have to wait until the next parking-meter show that I’m asked to judge. Sometimes I have to wait awhile. For instance, it was more than 50 years before this one.

7 thoughts on “Don’t follow leaders; watch the parking meters

  1. Brad

    Throughout my career in the field of parking meter art, I’ve had to confront philistinism. Sigh…

    By the way, the artist who did the winning entry that I liked so much (the exploding meter) was one jdsharpe. That’s all I know about him; his Twitter feed doesn’t link to a website or anything…

  2. Steven Davis

    philistinism – the opinions, goals, and conduct of persons deficient in liberal culture

    That sounds about right. Call me liberal culture deficient.

    So how long have you been studying parking meter art? Sigh…

  3. Brad

    Y’all might enjoy this story, shared with me today by Ali Weinberg of NBC:

    Per your Subterranean Homesick Blues  Blues allusion on the blog, I thought I’d pass along this anecdote from my mom, a former history teacher and a big Bob Dylan fan who frequently liked to play music as students filed in to class. One year sometime in the ’80s, as extra credit for the final exam, she put this question up on the board: “Why don’t the pump work?”

    Those who answered correctly (instead of chiding her grammar) were given extra points and, obviously, extra street cred with Mrs. Weinberg.

    Since we’re talking pop culture, I should probably mention that Ali’s Dad, Max is the Max Weinberg of E Street Band and Conan O’Brian show fame.

    Ali has been in SC the last few months covering the primary.


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